punchy line

...and he (Simon Peter) saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth ... not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. - Jn 20: 6-7
-Jn 20: 6-7

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Why Everyone Should Have at Least Three Kids If They Can

If the title made you roll your eyes bear with me, I would have done the same a year ago.

I think it was a few minutes after dinner, when my older two kids were dancing and chanting, “What Does The Fox Say?” to the baby squealing with laughter in his high chair, that the fruit of my decision to have a third child twinkled like the bright joy issuing from the baby’s eyes.

This was not an isolated moment.  I’ve felt this way frequently over the last few months.

As someone formerly overwhelmed with two kids, it’s a complete shocker that I’m enjoying having three.  There were plenty of times when I was ready to throw in the towel convinced that God had erred when he created Mother (cue me waving my fist at Heaven shrieking, “You are so clearly a man!” to The Man, if you follow me.)

Having three kids is completely different.  Here’s why: the older two who previously only had each other to pick on are now channeling their energy into showering their baby brother with love…and lyrics from silly You Tube videos as I mentioned above.  Squabbling does still happen, by the way, I’m not saying having a baby is the magical cure to sibling rivalry.  However, an infant in the house does help them fight less over petty stuff like toys since, you know, the baby is basically the ultimate toy now.   Yes, we have to work on “sharing” the baby.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In short, I thought my heart grew with every kid, but my trajectory of growth is not nearly as steep or magnificent as my kids’ maturity into loving little people.

Their capacity to be caring individuals has absolutely exploded.  And it is beautiful.  Suddenly, they are good kids.  Suddenly, I like them and motherhood more.

It might sound counterintuitive but for those couples struggling with two my advice is: have three. 

You will grow but more importantly and astoundingly those same two kids you are currently struggling with will grow.  You might just start enjoying them.

Parents with three or more, what has your experience been?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Magnificat for Tired Moms

My messy house proclaims the greatness of the Lord
My children’s bellies rejoice in slow cooker, our savior.
For one meal this tired, lowly servant rested.
Henceforth all ages will call me mom or mama or mommy
or some variation thereof.

The dishwasher has done great things for me
And holey be its watery jets.

Naptimes have mercy on all who take them,
For every generation fears mama’s cranky wrath.

Holding babies has shown the strength of my arm,
But nursing has scattered my brain.

Among other things I also clean the porcelain throne.
To do so, I have lifted up the seat.

My bank account was once filled with good things,
But my gas tank, growing children, ballet class, tuition, a family vacation and buying in bulk have rendered it empty.

But God has come to the help of his servant, this tired mom,
For the husband has remembered to throw out the trash and do recycling,
The promise mentioned “between the lines” on our wedding day,
To me and our future family forever.

Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Please God grant me the grace to do this another day,
And don’t strike me dead for writing this.  Amen.

Tired moms, what does your Magnificat say?

A Covered California Nightmare

Do you think that all the negative speculation over how bad California’s new, affordable health insurance exchange, Covered California is, is exaggerated?

If it is anything like how Covered CA’s current call centers are operating then be very, very afraid.

The following is a true story about one woman who did everything the call center operators told her to do.  That woman was me.

It all began on the website.  I clicked that nice, friendly looking, “Start here” button and filled out the application.  When I submitted I got this message:

            “Congratulations!  You qualified for $0 per month in premium assistance.”

Wait.  That meant that I didn’t get any help, right?  So why was I being congratulated again? I double-checked their scale and our income and household size met their criteria, so what was the problem?

Commence call number one, which, of course meant a “higher than average” wait time.  When I got a real person on the phone I asked why I didn’t qualify for assistance when I met the criteria.

            “You need to fax your husband’s paycheck stubs.”

Okay.  So I did.  And didn’t hear from them.

I called back a week later to ask if they received my fax.

            “Our fax machine has been broken. You need to send it to the PO box.”

Okay.  So I did.  And didn’t hear from them.

Call three.  Did they receive the paycheck stubs?
“Ma’am we have no way of knowing.  We are a call center in Fresno and that P.O Box is in West Sacramento.  We don’t know if anyone is taking care of that and they aren’t really telling us anything.”

So what should I do?  “Call back.”

Okay.  So I did.

This time though, I got someone who knew what she was doing.  Her name was Lwanda and she was very friendly. 

She said:

“You didn’t need to fax or mail your paycheck stubs in.  That was the old system,” (that ancient system of a couple of weeks ago) “Now we have a new system where you can just scan your stubs in.”  In short, I wasted my time following instructions.

She also educated me on peculiar facts about the application process such as how the plan was linked to the primary tax filer and if I wasn’t listed as the primary (which I am not – my husband is) the system would not allow me to pick a plan.

So Lwanda “fixed” my application so we could proceed.

Except that we didn’t pick a plan during that phone call because poor Lwanda was using a PC and the great state of California has chosen Internet Explorer as their browser, which means that each page takes two minutes to load.  And finally, Lwanda made a great discover on my behalf (drumroll): there was a glitch in the system.   A glitch.  A single technology error that stood between me and a Covered CA plan.  I bet you didn’t see that coming.  Oh wait, yes, you probably did.

The good news: I do actually qualify for aid!  The bad news: I’m going to have to start all over again and submit a new application.

Either that or wait a week for someone at the “help” desk to stumble upon Lwanda’s message about my glitch issue and actually drudge up the energy to do something about it. Yeah.  Not going to happen.

Remind me again how universal healthcare, if it’s run like this, is supposed to help me?  I’m very, very afraid.

What ending befits this story?  Only this: a letter I just received from them today that cheerfully reads (due to the aforementioned glitch):
“Congratulations!  You qualify for up to $0 per month premium assistance.”

Wonderful. So congratulate me.  Not only do I not get any tax credit assistance but I also get a Covered California nightmare to go with it.    

And the Mom of the Year Award Goes to..

And the Mom of the Year Award Goes To…

I believe a standing ovation is in order.

One befitting the scenario on that morning. Picture it:  one little girl crossing the threshold into her kindergarten classroom, her mother behind her.

Just as she is turning around to make a scene again, her expressionless mother closes the door on her.

And holds it there. 

Not this time.  Sorry, kid.  It’s time to go to school.

There’s no noise, no wailing or screaming.  (I guess the torture devices are not there that day). After a few moments, the pressure against the other side of the door stops.  

It’s safe.  The same expressionless mom scampers away before girl can run out after her.

“It’s all rainbows and sunshine and unicorns once you are gone.” That’s what the teacher said after last week’s meltdown.  All “rainbows and sunshine and unicorns,” after the flood of tears and the pleadings for mommy not to go.  A completely different girl once I left, apparently.

So no, sir, I don’t feel bad about standing on one side of the door and holding it shut while the girl stood on the other side trying to push it open and run out.

When I pick her up I ask cheerfully, “So, honey, how was your day.”  Bubbly girl replies, “I had fun, mama!”

Of course she did.

But wait!  There’s more! Fast-forward to later that same night. 
Who is that?  Why, it’s my little girl who is volunteering to set the table for the whole family.  And she is singing while she does it.  She’s singing “My Country Tis of Thee” no less, and making up her own lyrics to the tune.

I observe, “Sweetie!  How wonderful of you!  You’re such a big, helpful girl!”

“I am a big girl, mama! I go to school!” she says. 

So I guess the old “caged animal” approach to education does work.  True story.

And the mom of the year award goes to…not me.  But you are now free to give me a standing ovation.  Do you have any “mom of the year” award moments from the past week or month to share?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Babies are Fun… No, Wait, Aargh!

Okay, so I had a baby three months and thirty pounds ago. Which means that I still need to lose as much as my three year old weighs just to get back to “zero” (not the size, mind you.)  And I am flippin’ angry over that.

In fact I’ve been angry a lot lately.  A lot.

Like when the baby is crying in the back seat and won’t take the binky that my daughter is giving him and we hit every single red light and slow driver on the road before we get home - I’ve been angry about that.

Or when a certain national drugstore chain decides to earmark half a dozen spots closest to their front door for stupid “low emissions” vehicles.  Psah! You bet that rubbed me the wrong way as I swung my CO2 emitting dented and cracked American made truck into one of those spots in that “I’m postpartum and I dare you to give me a ticket” kind of way.  I’m still stewing over it, though, and just might boycott the place in a personal rant over the injustice of it all.

Even worse, lately I’ve been angry with my husband over him just breathing.  You know, because for most of the day, he breathes where there’s no scent of soiled diaper, or spit up, or chicken nuggets around.    He called me as I composed this post (which I wrote while nursing, by the way) to say:

“Guess what?  I just got a plenary indulgence!”

Now, perhaps a more pious wife would have been happy for her husband about this, but I went all Dana Carvey on him, “Well, aren’t you just special?” I said.  He was quiet for a second (and, being English, did not understand the reference anyway) before he took his life in his hands by asking, “So what’s for dinner?”

I choked back the angry rant I could have spewed at that moment.  “I don’t know.  What are you cooking?” I asked.  “It’s not my day to cook.” He said.

“I know.  Sorry.” I said. “I guess I can just pick up some burgers,” he said.

“Great. It looks like that extra grace is really paying off today.” I said in that way.  He made some comment about me giving up.  I looked at the infant nursing at my breast and said, “Yup.  Given up.  Glad we could both cross this bridge together.  So, see you in a couple of minutes?”

Check and mate.  Score one for the angry gal. 

You know, the angry one with a “Catholic mom” blog full with posts that frequently feature poop, domestic rants and homeschooling thoughts, because yes, I now personify every stereotype I always told myself I never would!

At this point you are probably wondering, then why do it?  Why have kids and why do any of it? 

I can only respond, because of this:

 Look at him.  Did you know that he laughs in his sleep?  That when he sees me he lights up like I’m the sun?  That the world was made more complete, and his siblings are I (believe it or not?) are better with him around.

Did I mention that I only had him three months ago? No wonder I feel this way! What do you expect, people? I had a baby only three months ago.  I’m pretty sure all of this is normal.  And I know exactly how to fight this thing  (so if you too are in the same boat, take this down):

I’m going to make it a point to be with people and not just ask for prayers on Facebook.  The presence of others helps, especially for an introvert like me whose tendency is to isolate.  It’s the only thing that helps, actually, in addition to the rosary...and beer.  In fact, I started this post wanting to write about how great being with people is when you have a baby, but then, you know…aargh!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Faith of our Family: England vs. America

One of the greatest adventures of marrying an English Catholic and raising our hybrid Yank/Brit children in the Faith has been exposing them to the richness found in both the English and American Catholic Churches.  When I studied there, as a Hispanic Californian, I felt happily “at home” with the English Catholics and my husband has fit in pretty well out here in California where the demographics of the Church are very demonstratively not English.

Having lived in each other’s respective Churches, a nice organic overlap between English Catholicism and American Catholicism has arisen in our home.  It surfaces in different, novel ways.

For instance, the “Amen.”  Americans say “Amen” with a long “a” sound. The English say “AH-men.”  While at Oxford, it rubbed off on me in a big way.  I still feel a bit snobby for saying it that way, but I still do it, aware that most of Christendom and Latin America also say it that way.  The kids say both at different times and it’s kind of fun to watch.

Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Thomas More live in our home.  She, in a framed gold picture, he as a fridge magnet.  But hey, to each according to their station, right?

Every time we attend mass in England we get to practice singing the whole song!  It’s England.  So if a song has four verses, we sing those four verses.  None of this slicing up the closing hymn, stuff.  At least not in any English mass I’ve ever attended.

Over there, abstinence from meat on Fridays is back…in the country where the fish and chips are awesome and we look forward to indulging when we visit.  What a sacrifice.  Go England. 

My kids get to witness firsthand that the Church’s liturgy is the same everywhere.  So they have no excuse not to participate no matter where we are.

Their Churches are older… and prettier. Many are currently protestant because of this big To-Do that happened in the 16th century called the Reformation.  But I never miss the chance to go see a big, ancient one whenever we visit and I make sure to remind the kids that once-upon-a-time, they all used to be ours (and more theirs than mine, because they have their father’s genes.)

Our churches are fuller.   Our parish in Santa Clara may be a-typical as parishes go as every Sunday we face hundreds, if not thousands of people, crowding in for mass so that it’s standing room only.  But that, for me, means the church is full.  For my brother in law, who described for me what the “packed” mass at his parish looks like, congregants more or less filling up most of the pews qualifies as “full.”  (Although I hear this is not the case in English parishes with more ethnic minorities.)    And so it is not with any small pride that I beam over the aforementioned hybrid English/American  children filling up a said sparsely “full” pew to capacity when we attend mass there.

They have same freedom of religion and speech problems with their secular state as we do.  So pray for our English brethren, won’t you? It’s far more “post-Christian” over there with only 4% of the population identifying as Christian (and I’m pretty sure my husband’s extended family make up most of the Catholics of southern England anyway).

Their St. Michael prayer is different.   It also sounds way more Englishy. Look it up. I still get confused, and substitution occurs but it really doesn’t matter, right?   If I say ‘restrain’ vs. ‘rebuke’ or “Divine power” vs. “Power of God” it’s all the same meaning, correct (someone help me out with this!)?

They say, “Lord, graciously hear us,” while we command, “Lord, hear our prayer.”  In other words, our prayers of petition stink.  I very much prefer the former, for sure.

Obligation means obligation.  None of this “moving the Holy Day of Obligation to Sunday,” rubbish.  If that day requires mass, then go to mass on that day.  An extra liturgy is offered for working people and it’s up to you to get there, as far as I am aware.

They have J.R.R Tolkien and G.K Chesterton.  I know of no other Catholic American author of the previous century to have written on par with these two English Catholic authors (but then again, I never studied American literature).  You bet my kids will read both men.

We have EWTN.    I know of no English Catholic media outlet that comes close to being like EWTN.  My mother in law loves EWTN and spent her last visit to California watching World Youth Day Rio.    I’ll bet that was something she never imagined herself doing: watching our first Latin American pope celebrate World Youth day in South America while herself vacationing in America.

But, lo, the adventures in our blended English/American Catholic household continue!  It turns out the combination of St. Thomas More and Our Lady of Guadalupe make powerful intercessors.  By the same token, I’m sure in its inevitable that one day both St. Julian of Norwich and Bl. Miguel Pro will also feature prominently among other interesting British/Californian amalgamations of the Faith that will continue cropping up in our home.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Sisterhood of Lay Catholic Women

If the Catholic Church ever took out an ad that listed its most winning attributes, most people might be surprised to find, “Haven for women seeking earnest, genuine friendships with other women.” Which is a shame really, because for me, in recent years, that’s exactly what the Church has done: it has provided a wellspring of fun, down to earth, Faith filled women of all ages, near and far, that I would never have know otherwise.

Dare I even say it? In the Church, as a woman, I’ve found a sisterhood of sorts with other lay Catholic women.

While I would never suggest that the sisterhood I speak of is on the same level as consecrated religious sisters, there are some striking similarities between the lives of “Sr.” sisters and us, lay woman “sisters.”

Number one: like nuns, we lay women pray.  We pray daily.  We pretty much need to pray or else we’ll die.  The Holy Rosary is frequently our prayer of choice.  We pray for the members of our ‘community’ whether that means other women in our parish, social circles, families or those whom we’ve met online.  After mass today, for instance, I was asking a few Catholic moms to pray for a special intention.

Try going out into secular society and stringing the words “pray” and “special” and “intention” together in one sentence and see how that goes.  In contrast, amongst my Catholic lay sisters, such a request is received as naturally as if you were asking for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (In fact, asking for a sandwich would be a little more weird, you know, because who actually goes around doing that?)

Number two: we adore Jesus before all others, both figuratively and literally.  And truly, if any of us is being honest, we’re slightly envious that consecrated religious sisters get the spouse who probably would never forget when it’s trash night.

Number three: Our ‘sisterhood’ can be as widespread as any religious order thanks to newer technologies.

Blogosphere sisterhood is a rather recent invention, and perhaps a stretch for the imagination for some, but believe me, it exists.

Like when one blogger’s child is injured and everyone links to her page on the internet.  It doesn’t just end there, you see.  My whole family will take the time to pray for hers as often as we can.  Or when another blogger publishes a book it’s such a strengthening moment for our ‘community’ of lay women everywhere. 

I personally also find it incredibly consoling when a lay women writes about the experience of being a lay woman. Is there anything more freeing for a woman than knowing that her sister’s crosses are nearly identical to her own?  Doubt it!  It’s saved my life to be sure.

Because I have the experiences of other women to bounce off of, I know that for any sort of difficulty I’m having, there’s someone who has ‘been there.’  Heck, she’s probably ‘been there’ several times over and is a bit battle scorched and salty, but hey, that’s the toll that has come from her faithful perseverance.

If I am being very honest, I kind of need her if I am ever to be her to other lay women who, at the end of the day, find themselves thirsting for what all women need on such a basic, primordial level: a friend.  Nay, a sister.

But let it not all be about pain and sacrifice, for, mercifully, Catholic lay women are also ridiculous, crazy fun. This is the last similarity between ourselves and religious that I’ll mention: we too know how to have a good time!

I once shunned the company of women at my parish convinced that I’d be a hypocrite if I approached them because there I was, such a mess and still attending mass.  But now, having gotten to know many of the gals at the parish, and realizing that we’re all a mess in our own ways, it’s been awesome!

I’ve never laughed so hard or so genuinely as with my Catholic sisters.  It’s made me a better person because I’m not staying stuck in my own mind, as is my tendency. Nor do I have to fear them judging me if I do something crazy like regularly attend spiritual direction, participate in a Walk for Life or have a baby.

It was always a challenge making friendships in the secular world as I went about half hoping that no one would notice how much I loved God and His Church.  But such a concern has evaporated now that I know there is a community that I can truly be myself with.   The only way to describe it is a sisterhood of lay Catholic women, all adhering to their Faith, the rock upon which they are building their lives.